Tom Kim, Min Woo Lee will be the next two international superstars in golf

Tom Kim, Min Woo Lee will be the next two international superstars in golf

The future of international golf has arrived, as Tom Kim of South Korea and Australian Min Woo Lee will be the sport’s next big superstars.

Kim, who just won the Shriners Children’s Open for a second consecutive year, is now the 11th-ranked player in the world and has three PGA Tour titles to his name, all while being just 21 years old. Kim became the youngest player to defend a PGA Tour title since 1912.

“It’s [feels] very sweet,” Kim said Sunday after his win in Las Vegas. “I feel like the first two wins came at me really quick. It took a lot longer than my first two wins to get my third one. But it’s very sweet.”

Before Sunday’s victory, Kim last won on the PGA Tour at the 2022 Shriners Children’s Open. He won the Wyndham Championship two months before for his maiden tour victory.

Tom Kim, PGA Tour, Shriners Children’s Open

Tom Kim poses with the trophy after winning the 2023 Shriners Children’s Open.
Photo by Orlando Ramirez/Getty Images

Since October 2022, however, Kim could not get over the hump, despite playing well for most of the year.

Similar sentiments can be said about Lee, as he, too, broke through this past weekend.

The Australian emerged victorious at the Asian Tour’s SJM Macao Open. DataGolf now has Lee as the 35th-ranked player in the world.

Lee’s win Sunday marked his first professional win since 2021. He defeated Matt Fitzpatrick and Thomas Detry at the 2021 Scottish Open, his second career title on the DP World Tour.

“It’s been a while since my last win, so it’s nice,” Lee said of his play in Macao ahead of this week’s ZOZO Championship in Japan.

“30-under on any course—it’s a fun, short course, but you’ve still got to do it, and 30-under was a really cool achievement. I don’t think I’ve ever gone that low before.”

Min Woo Lee, SJM Macao Open

Min Woo Lee receives that trophy after winning the 2023 SJM Macao Open.
Photo by Jason Butler/Getty Images

Regardless of the competition, 30-under is an astoundingly low score.

Yet, Lee is no stranger to big-time events. The same can be said about Kim.

Coincidentally, both players made the cut at three of the four majors in 2023.

Kim missed the cut at the PGA Championship, while Lee missed the cut at Augusta National. But outside of those blemishes, these two played well otherwise.

Tom Kim, Min Woo Lee impress at Majors

The two young rising stars played incredibly well on the biggest stages in 2023.

At the Masters, Kim tied for 16th.

Then, he tied for eighth at the U.S. Open, which included a record-breaking 6-under 29 on Saturday’s front nine. Kim followed that up with a second-place finish at The Open.

Let those numbers sink in for the 21-year-old.

The 25-year-old Lee, meanwhile, tied for 18th at Oak Hill and then finished in a tie for fifth at the Los Angeles Country Club.

If not for a poor third round, in which he shot a 4-over 74, Lee could have been right there at the end when Wyndham Clark fended off Rory McIlroy.

All three of his other scores that week were in the 60s.

The long-bombing Australian even had a 407-yard drive during his second round, the longest tee shot of the 2023 U.S. Open. That came on the 558 par-4 16th, the longest hole in championship history.

Min Woo Lee, Los Angeles Country Club, 123rd U.S. Open Championship

Min Woo Lee plays a tee shot during the third round of the 2023 U.S. Open.
Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images

But what Lee has in length, Kim does not.

The South Korean ranked 119th on the PGA Tour in driving distance, averaging 297.6 yards per shot.

Nevertheless, Kim makes up for his deficiencies off the tee with accuracy and precise iron play. He is a fairway machine, finding the short grass 67.5% of the time in 2023—good for 7th on the PGA Tour.

He also ranks 10th on tour in strokes gained: approaching the green.

Lee is also a solid ball striker, but he can often be erratic off the tee, leading to big numbers quickly.

But most importantly, these two players have matured beyond their age over the past couple of years. Both have learned more about their games and have grown comfortable within themselves.

“I’ve learned so much this year,” Kim said Sunday.

Tom Kim, PGA Tour, Shriners Children’s Open

Tom Kim speaks to the press after his win at the 2023 Shriners Children’s Open.
Photo by Orlando Ramirez/Getty Images

“Just controlling what I can control, play the way I can play. Even though I had those two soft bogeys [Sunday at Shriners], I knew if I just played my game and just stayed in it, I was going to be there, and I felt like that’s exactly what I did. All of the things that I’ve learned this year really was the result of what happened this week.”

Kim won the event by a stroke over Adam Hadwin, and looked comfortable all day Sunday.

So too did Lee, who won the Macao Open by two shots over Thailand’s Poom Saksansin.

“I’m very comfortable now, I guess, in that situation, being with the crowd and being up there on the leaderboard,” Lee said.

“I think just being a bit more comfortable physically and mentally. Yeah, just listening to my body a bit more. It’s quite tough with the travel, so yeah, I think I’ve always done that pretty well. Just finding my feet a little bit more every time I play.”

Both players did not let the pressures of tournament golf get to them this past week.

Instead, they looked as comfortable as ever, perhaps foreshadowing what is to come in 2024. Maybe a major championship?

Even so, it is not a matter of if they can win a major, but a matter of when for Kim and Lee.

Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko for more golf coverage. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough too.

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